New research suggests that xenon gas has the potential to be used
for treatment for post traumatic stress disorder.
Humans generally have their own adaptive physiological response to
stress called as the 'fight or flight' response. Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD occurs in
some cases when people are exposed to an extreme stress trigger or a very stressful event such as
criminal assault, natural disasters, serious accident etc. People living with
PTSD typically have periodic flashbacks or nightmares of the triggering event.
Generally, psychotherapy and medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers are used to treat PTSD.
Xenon, which is an
odorless, nontoxic and environmentally friendly gas, has been studied for many
years for its anaesthetic properties. Xenon is a noble or inert gas which induces anesthesia by blocking NMDA receptors in the brain which are
known to be associated with memory function.
Recent studies conducted with xenon shows this gas is now
capable of making you forget your painful memories or fearful recollections. The authors, Edward G Meloni and Marc J Kaufman, conducted the study
to see whether a low concentration of xenon gas could interfere with a process
called reconsolidation - a state in which reactivated memories become susceptible
Marc Kaufman, associate professor of psychiatry from the
Harvard Medical School and director of the
Translational Imaging Laboratory at McLean hospital
commented "The fact that we were able to inhibit remembering of a
traumatic memory with xenon is very promising because it is currently used in
humans for other purposes, and thus it could be re-purposed to treat
For the study,
the scientists used mice which were trained to be afraid of sounds that were
paired with painful electrical
shocks to their feet. Reactivating the fearful memory was done by
exposing the mice to those same cues and then measuring their freezing
response. It was found that the mice
exposed to xenon gas froze for fewer times in response to the
sound as compared to the mice which were not exposed to xenon.
assistant psychologist at McLean and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said "We know from
previous research that each time an emotional memory is recalled, the brain
actually re-stores it as if it were a new memory. With this knowledge, we decided to see
whether we could alter the process by introducing xenon gas immediately after a
fear memory was reactivated."
He further added "The investigators found that a
single hour-long dose of xenon was enough to reduce rats' fear responses and
the effects remained for up to two weeks. Unlike other
drugs or medications that may also block NMDA receptors involved in memory,
xenon gets in and out of the brain very quickly."
The findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE
The authors Meloni and Kaufman concluded that if future
research shows that xenon has the same effects on people's fearful memories, it
could potentially be used to treat people with PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
Recurrent or continuous painful
memories of the tragic event
flashbacks of the traumatic event and reliving those moments over and over
frightened, sad, anxious and disconnected from the world at all times
disturbed sleep due to nightmares of the traumatic event
reactions or outbursts to something that reminds you of the event
avoid places or people that remind you of the traumatic event
scornful or negative feelings about yourself or other people
interest in activities which you previously enjoyed and life in general
Feeling of depression and
Aggressive behavior or
being angry or irritable for no reason
guilt, shame and blaming self for the event
natural for any one of us to want to avoid painful memories, flashbacks, nightmares and other
physiological reactions associated with PTSD. Till a treatment that alleviates
the impact of those painful memories is established, it is important to seek
medical advice sooner rather than later.